Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Halftime Score: John McCain 90, Dick Cheney 9

Marty Lederman

The Senate just voted 90 to 9 (yup, ninety to nine) in favor of Senator McCain's amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill, which would prohibit all U.S. personnel from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees -- i.e., engaging in conduct that would "shock the conscience" under Due Process Clause doctrine -- anywhere in the world. The McCain Amendment, if enacted, would (among other things) close the "CIA loophole" that was created by virtue of the Department of Justice's controversial conclusion that Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture does not apply outside the U.S.

The vote tonight occurred only after White House officials this week "not only pressured Mr. McCain to modify his measure, but also approached sympathetic Senate Republicans to work against the amendment." (This was the latest episode in a longrunning dispute between Senator McCain and the Vice President on this issue.)

The lonely "nay" votes were cast by Sens. Allard, Bond, Coburn, Cochran, Cornyn, Inhofe, Roberts, Sessions and Stevens.

The House will, of course, be a tougher nut to crack (largely because of the Chair of the Armed Services Committee) -- as will the House/Senate conference. But ninety votes -- including that of the majority leader -- is a very strong tailwind for Senator McCain.

UPDATE: More from Andrew Sullivan here, including: thoughts on how the public support for Ian Fishback may have made a real difference; the text of Senator McCain's eloquent floor statement; and the text of a letter from Colin Powell, of all people, to McCain, in support of the amendment -- support that must have also contributed to the margin of the remarkable vote today. Of course, Powell has been pressing this side of the debate against Cheney, et al., since January 2002. It's telling that he can have more influence on the question now that he's out of the government than he ever did when he was Secretary of State and his warnings and pleas were routinely ignored.


And who would not also vote to prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of rabid hyenas? Politicians play these grandstanding word-games but what matters is the practical effect.

Ummm, I think it should be a strong tail wind for McCain, not a head wind.

Oops -- uh, that's what I meant. Thanks, jteam -- now corrected.

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